NASCAR Media Conference
June 18, 2013
AMANDA ELLIS: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. We are joined by Brian Vickers, driver of the No.55 RK Motors Charlotte Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the No.20 Dollar General Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. This weekend, Vickers will pull double duty, running Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America and Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway. Vickers finished fourth at Sonoma last season and will make his Road America debut on Saturday.
Brian, as we mentioned, a busy weekend on deck for you. How do you plan to approach this weekend knowing you'll be competing in two different races in two different states with two different teams?
BRIAN VICKERS: Well, this is going to be a first for me. I don't know‑‑ well, that's not true, actually. I think I did do some double duties when I first started Nationwide with Hooters Cup. But this is the first time I've done a Cup and Nationwide weekend when they're separated. It's going to be fun, but it's going to be challenging.
I do think that the fact that the Nationwide race is a road race as well as obviously the Cup race will help, just being‑‑ not going from an oval to a road and back and forth. I think being on a road course in both places will help. Unfortunately because of schedules I won't be able to practice Sonoma. But we decided that it was best to just stay in Road America and focus on that. One, that's the car we're racing for a championship, and also I've never been to Road America. Starting shotgun and cold turkey there would be much more difficult than Sonoma, where I've been racing for 10 years and have experience at the track and we've had good runs. There's no guarantee of future success, but nevertheless I felt a lot more comfortable starting there without practice.
Q. Just one question. I know you had mentioned both races are road courses, but the tracks are vastly different. What do you need to do to run well at each place, and is there anything you do differently strategy wise or preparation‑wise to adjust for those courses?
BRIAN VICKERS: You know, it's a great question. I've been told they're different. I don't really know because I've never been to Road America. So it's going to be a fresh look for me.
You know, I've watched some videos, of course, and things, but never, ever actually seen the place personally.
You know, I think that as much as I would like to go back and forth, I think just kind of focusing on one and then moving on and focusing on the other will certainly be a benefit to a certain extent. Obviously missing qualifying at Sonoma and starting last is not going to help, but there are benefits. I think there's opportunities at Sonoma to get to do a little bit different pit strategy; knowing that you don't really have track position to protect kind of can create opportunities. We've been there in the past where we've had either bad qualifying or something happened during the race and we had to come in and pit or penalties on pit road, like last year we had the penalty on pit road and had to go to the back and we worked our way back up to fourth, but as much as it hurt us it also created opportunities.
I'm looking forward to both of them. It's going to take a little different mentality and technique going from Road America which is a little bit faster place to Sonoma which is a slower more technical road race, but I'm up for the challenge and excited.
Q. Did you kind of walk away from last year's race a little bit surprised that there were only two caution flags? It seems like everyone was kind of predicting kind of a rough‑and‑tumble race that ended up being pretty clean.
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, I mean, I was surprised it was only two cautions and would be again this year if the same played out. That said, I think it was a pretty rough‑and‑tumble race. There was some really hard racing going on. You know, the road courses in my opinion in NASCAR have become great races. I think they've always been good races, but since when I first started, you could count on less than‑‑ there was less than a handful of guys that you could almost count on to win the race, and now I think more drivers have either come from road racing backgrounds and/or have done more road racing in sports car stuff through the years or just put more emphasis on running good. I think for a long time a lot of guys just wrote those tracks off and they didn't put a lot into it, and now it seems like to win a championship you've got to compete every single week, week in and week out. I think a lot of teams, crew chiefs and drivers alike have put a lot more emphasis on the road racing and you're seeing a lot more talent show up at those races, and out of teams that we have not even expected at times.
We've had, I think I heard on the TV the other day, eight different winners the last eight races or some kind of statistic. Don't quote me on that, you'll want to look that up for yourself, but some phenomenal statistic about the variation of winners that we have now on road courses, and I think it's a testament to the great cars, the competition within the sport, and the talent that are showing up at these races. You don't know who's going to win, it's a rough race, you've got to race hard and race for every inch.
You know, I think at a road race there are cars that go off, but it also‑‑ because there's not a wall at the end of the racetrack, you can go off and come back on. So you may not see as many cautions where‑‑ like if it was a street course and there was literally a wall at the edge of the racetrack all the way around, I think you would see a lot more cautions. I think a lot happens at those racetracks that don't necessarily‑‑ they don't throw a caution for, but nonetheless, it's extremely exciting to watch.
Q. I guess Clint Bowyer would kind of fall into that category as a guy not necessarily known as an exceptional road course racer but he ran obviously very well last year.
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, no, absolutely. He did a great job last year, and again, I think a lot of it comes down to, like I said, the drivers, the crew chiefs, all the teams putting a lot more emphasis on the road racing and the cars. Yeah, it used to be the teams that won were the teams that felt they could win so therefore they put a lot into the cars, and now it seems like everybody puts a lot of effort into the road racing, the road course car, and their testing and etcetera.
You know, MWR is a good example of that, and you also can't deny the fact that the cars, the competition is stronger. The cars are‑‑ I think the separation between the car, the one race at Sonoma 10 years ago and the guy that finished fifth or 10th or 15th was far greater than what you see now with the Gen‑6 car or even the Gen‑5 car.
Q. How do you expect the Gen‑6 car to be at Sonoma?
BRIAN VICKERS: You know, we did a test there, and it was great. It drove phenomenal. I think the little bit of increase in downforce and the little bit lighter car is going to show up in a big way at a road course. It's going to be fun to drive, and I think it's going to make for a great race. At the test we did it was‑‑ when you look at the times, it was tight. There was a lot of competition. Everybody was fast, and I think it's going to be a great race.
Q. How much do you think Clint's win last year was a shot in the arm for MWR?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, of course. I think it definitely was. I think it was a great victory for MWR as a whole and for that team particularly, where they went on to have a great run at the championship. You know, but it was good for everyone within the MWR organization as well as Toyota.
Q. The Daytona people announced a $400 million project here to renovate the grandstand area of Daytona Speedway. Can you make a comment about what this means for the sport, to have the flagship speedway undergoing this massive renovation?
BRIAN VICKERS: I think it's phenomenal. I mean, we‑‑ there's no doubt that I don't think anyone can argue with the fact that we have some of the best content of any sports franchise, and the product that we have on the racetrack, the competition, the racing, the excitement, the speed, the energy, the crashes‑‑ yes, the crashes, we know that the fans love that, as well. I think it's second to none.
And our facilities are good, but they can be better. You know, and I think that's the message I'm taking out of it, and I think that's the message the fans are taking out of it, as well. Look at the investment that NASCAR is putting into the sport for us. NASCAR has put a lot of investment into the sport for a long time to make these cars better, to make them safer, to make the competition stronger, which in turn is‑‑ some of it's for us in the safety aspect, but a lot of it‑‑ all that is for the fans, too, more in an indirect way. Obviously focusing on the content and the quality of racing you see and the competition.
Now they're going more direct to the fans, which is, okay, guys, we've heard you, we've got good races but we want to make your experience even better, where you sit, where you eat, how you get in, how you get out and everything in between. You know, and what better place to start off than Daytona. You know, I can't wait to see it. I can't wait to go and race there. I can't wait to watch a race there. I think the fans are going to be thrilled when they see what they're putting together.
Q. So the next time you parachute into Daytona, you might not recognize the place.
BRIAN VICKERS: I may have to get another picture for my landing zone. I might miss it it's going to be so different.
Q. With doing the double duty and then of course never having been to Road America, NASCAR drivers just seem to have this ability to adjust. Could you talk a little bit about that as a skill and how you approach something and you overcome things maybe a little better than some of us out here?
BRIAN VICKERS: Well, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but I think definitely the ability as an athlete to adapt to a situation, to learn quickly is very important. As a race car driver I think stock car drivers in particular are some of the best at doing that, always growing up on different‑‑ traveling around, running different racetracks, and the tracks are very different. Like a lot of people look at ovals and they say, wow, it's only two turns. Well, it's not, it's so much more than that, and it requires so much more finesse. Typically in oval track racing or stock car racing growing up and even at the NASCAR Sprint Cup level, every track has its unique characteristics and the tires and the services and some have a ton of grip and go really fast and some are worn out and you have to slide the car sideways to go fast. Yeah, you get some of that in road racing, but I don't know that you get quite the variation, and I think it creates drivers that learn how to and become very good at adapting to new situations. We run ovals, we run road courses, we run half miles, two‑and‑a‑half miles, mile‑and‑a‑halfs, and I think that's a‑‑ that creates a great opportunity and a breeding ground for drivers that learn how to adapt and adapt quickly.
Q. About what you guys get to do when you're not behind the wheel, like Tony Stewart was in Daytona fishing the other day and doing a promo, and Kasey Kahne was over here in Tampa tossing a football with Josh Freeman of the Buccaneers, you get to jump out of an airplane for your sponsor. Can you talk a little bit about the thrill of doing that and maybe just the side work you guys get to do that's really kind of exciting, too?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, well, absolutely. The opportunities and the ability to go skydiving and play tennis and do all these other sports have been incredible opportunities for me and something I enjoy and something that the luxury of my sport has created and various sponsors through the years, and I love trying the other things, and I love, like you said, learning to adapt. I wasn't aware of what Kasey has done, but we've all gotten to do some pretty cool stuff, whether it's going on the skydive trips or learning to play another sport with some of the best of the best or going on a hunting trip or who knows what it is. And I think there's a lot of diversity within our sport among the drivers and athletes that people don't always get to see just watching the race coverage. But obviously if you follow them in their social media atmospheres, whether it's Twitter or Facebook, you get to see a lot more of that.
Q. With your permission I'd like to look ahead a little bit to Kentucky Speedway in two weeks. You went eight years, I think, without driving at Kentucky. When you came back in 2011, was the track surface dramatically bumpier, dramatically rougher than it was when you were there in Nationwide?
BRIAN VICKERS: It was. You know, and that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes it can definitely be excessive, and I think you want to fix that. But I think by and large having the tracks having some character can lead to some really good racing. And Kentucky was an example of that.
Now, it was also, as time went on, also became an example of one that's gotten‑‑ maybe gotten a little bit too much character, but that's part of it. I mean, that's what‑‑ going back to the question we talked about a minute ago, that's part of what makes our sport so amazing is from an aerial shot some people would say that, well, gosh, Kentucky is just like Charlotte, but no, are you kidding me? It's not even close. You can't even run a single piece of the setup the same, and the roughness and the characteristics of the track. It all changes. Every track is unique and has its own character, and that's part of why we have so many different winners, guys and crew chiefs and engineers that adapt to certain services better than others and they figure out a package for that weekend that just maybe gets through those bumps a little bit better than the next guy, and I think that's what makes it a great sport.
Q. For a driver when you're on a track that is as rough as that one, what is the particular challenge? Is it communicating in terms of getting the shock package right, or what's the biggest challenge for a driver at that track?
BRIAN VICKERS: I think some of the most difficult things for‑‑ not just for a driver but for a team, as a driver getting the most speed out of the car going through the bumps is always a challenge because when that car and those four tires, those four Goodyear Eagles are on that surface, they have a tremendous amount of grip. When all four contact patches are on the ground, you have a ton of grip and you're going through the corner at speeds of 200 miles an hour at times or at least 160 or 70, depends on the racetrack, going through the corner, and then all of a sudden you hit a bump and those contact packages leave the ground, or maybe they don't leave the ground but maybe they ‑‑ they definitely ‑‑ you get an increase and a decrease in the load, and that changes the grip level tremendously, so as a driver you've got to be able to react to that and to be able to get through those bumps, and it's a challenge because that car is always at the limit, and if you're not at the limit, then you're not pushing hard enough, you're not going fast enough. So that's the challenge for the drivers is to get to the limit and then go over the limit when you hit the bump and get back to the limit and then go over the limit when you hit the next bump and get back to the limit, and you kind of have to do that all the way through the corner, and it makes it difficult.
And then for the engineers and the team, they really rely‑‑ we don't have telemetry on the cars like a lot of sports do, which I agree with. I think it's a good thing, particularly in the races. It really makes the sport about communication between the drivers and the crew chiefs and the engineers. One of the few things they do have is the ability to look at the splitter and the skirts and say, okay, well, this is how far we're off the ground. We want to be able to be this many millimeters off the ground but no more, no less. That's easy to do‑‑ well, not easy, it's hard, but it's easier for them to do on a smooth racetrack.
You throw in a bunch of really big bumps at 200 miles an hour, that becomes very difficult because, you know, I mean, the splitter is definitely going to hit the ground, and then they've got to sort through was it actually on the ground too much, is it just in the bump, it is too much in the bump, too little, so it creates a lot of challenges not only for the driver but for the teams. And again, I just‑‑ just to reiterate, I think that's what makes it great.
Q. When MWR announced last week that you were running the Louisville National Championship paint scheme, it got a lot of attention here in the state. I was just curious are you a basketball fan and were you rooting for Louisville in the NCAA Tournament?
BRIAN VICKERS: Wow, that's like a loaded question. That's like your wife saying do I look good in‑‑ how do you answer that question? Well, I'll start with the easy part. Yes, I'm a basketball fan. I love a lot of sports. I enjoy watching a good basketball game. By no means would I consider myself a basketball player, but I played a little bit when I was young, and I realized very quickly that I was not very good at it, and I moved on to racing. But I do enjoy getting out and shooting some.
For me, whether it's basketball or racing, I think watching athletes at their best perform at that level is just a special thing to see. You know, and then obviously to have those guys on the car, and to see‑‑ and a team like that, those teams that just compete at the highest level and win and win championships is incredible.
I'm not going to say my favorite team‑‑ well, I know what my favorite team is now and what it's going to be in a couple weeks, but they're a great basketball team, and we're so thrilled to have them on the car and so proud, especially Michael. Obviously for Michael it's a special thing going to Kentucky, his home state. I love going there, as well, and I'm very proud to have them on the car and what they represent.
So how's that? Does that answer your question?
Q. That was very politically correct. I'm not sure it answered the question, but I understand your point of view.
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, well, like I said, I'm not sitting courtside at every basketball game, but I do love to go to a basketball game and watch those guys play at their best, and we're honored to have them on the car. Hopefully we can go win the race.
Q. This might be too tough for you to answer because of your extremely bad luck this past weekend, but how much different was the track at Michigan International Speedway this year as compared to the speeds that took place last year? A lot of the drivers we spoke with after the race said they did not hit the speeds that they were doing last year. What was it in your case?
BRIAN VICKERS: Well, that's a good question. I don't know because I wasn't there last year. I was racing‑‑ I was actually running the 24 hours at Le Mans last year when everyone else was at Michigan, and man, I would have loved to have been there because nothing makes me happier than going fast, and the speeds they were reaching last year were incredible. I can't quite answer the question.
I will tell you that the track was very fast, and like you said unfortunate we had‑‑ when the 99 spun in front of us, it caused kind of a multi‑car accident, and we were over the 22, and when he came down to avoid the 99, he ended up hitting us and spinning us around. So our day was cut short, way too short for me to really give you a lot of feedback on the race itself. But in practice and in qualifying the speeds were fast. I mean, it was‑‑ to be flat‑out, like not a hesitation, wide open in a car, in a stock car, even a Nationwide car going that fast around that track was a lot of fun.
Q. People have asked me this over and over: They say, somebody like Brian Vickers who's going to be pulling double duty, how the heck do you prepare for it? How do you do it, especially if the temperatures are in the 80s and 90s?
BRIAN VICKERS: Well, it's difficult. Obviously physical training is very important to be able to run both races and in two different places and travel and all that stuff. A lot of it's just‑‑ we've done a little bit of testing. We can't test at the tracks where we race, so that's limited. A lot of it's just‑‑ there's not a lot you can do to be honest with you. You can just be as ready as you can. You have good cars and good teams, and you hope you unload cars with some setups and you hope the car is close when you get in at Sonoma, and you do the best you can.
Q. First just talk about Road America. What are the challenges there or what's the biggest challenge, or is it as much of a challenge in the sense that it's a four‑mile lap as opposed to‑‑ I know that's a short lap from some of your experience in the past, but it's a four‑mile lap compared to what you race at most tracks. Is that the biggest challenge or what's the biggest challenge at Road America?
BRIAN VICKERS: You know, good question. I think that that's definitely one of the biggest challenges, long lap, and like you said, some of the races I ran last year, it's short. Le Mans was over I think a 10‑mile lap or something, Parnelli, more than that. It is difficult when a lap is that long because, okay, I hit this turn, I hit it really good, then the next one you're like, oh, gosh, I wish I would have went in a little bit deeper or maybe I shouldn't have gone in quite so deep, and you have so long before you get back around to that turn and you have so many other turns in between, it does create a challenge, and then obviously setting up for a track that long, you have a lot of give and take, right? You get a little bit here but you give up a little bit here when you make a change in the setup. The longer the track, the worse that is.
I would say the hardest thing for myself and I think a lot of guys going into this weekend is that we've never seen it. Most of the guys have not raced there, there's a few that have. I believe maybe Sam Hornish has run there in other cars, Max Papis and a few guys, but most guys have not, including myself, and the hardest part is going to be just learning a new four‑mile racetrack.
Q. I'll also ask you about Sonoma. You talked earlier about how it's a rough‑and‑tumble race. It reminds me of the story of where, like short tracks, Ken Schrader used to at the drivers' meeting go up to everybody and apologize for what was going to happen in the race because of the contact. Is Sonoma that type of race now because of the slower speeds, slower speeds than at Watkins Glen? Do you almost need to do that or is it that kind of mentality, I'm going to hit people, they're going to hit me and that's the way it's going to happen at Sonoma?
BRIAN VICKERS: Absolutely. I think that's pretty much spot‑on. And it's not a bad thing. I'm not complaining by no means. I love racing there, but it's a short track road course. I think the pros and cons come along with that. You're almost inevitably going to come out of there mad at someone and someone mad at you, and you just hope it's not too many and they're not too mad.
But it's just part of it, which is‑‑ it's just that's what the fans show up for, right? It's that strong and entertaining competition, but it's such a short track, and the field is so tightly packed and so competitive, you're inevitably going to run fenders with somebody. There's just no way around it, and you try to race as hard and respectfully as you can, but because it is, like you said, I think the best way to describe it is a short track road course, it's going to happen.
AMANDA ELLIS: Brian, thank you for joining us today. That's all the time we have for questions, but we wish you the best of luck this weekend at Road America and at Sonoma on Sunday.
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